Service recovery: customer, process and employee

This is the third instalment of my experience with Virgin Media and so it might not make sense without the back story; if you’re interested in that you can read Virgin Media – the best and the worst, which details what happened over the Christmas break with my lack of broadband and the response from the @virginmedia twitter team, and you can also read my attempts to make sense of my response to that in Service recovery Virgin Media style.

This post serves two purposes, to update on the response from Virgin Media (in case anyone out there is interested) and to pick up on the really useful comments and insights that the service recovery post led to – thank you to everyone who discussed it with me on the blog and on twitter, your reflections were really useful.

Since the most recent post I’ve had a visit from a Principal Technician, Mark, who phoned in advance to arrange a convenient time, who called to let me know when he was running late and who was incredibly pleasant and (as far as I could tell) knowledgeable when he got here. He has reassured me that if we have any further problems it is due to the network and not our equipment and most importantly he left me his contact details so I could get in touch direct with him if we had any future concerns. At this point in time we’ve had continual broadband, no problems and great customer service. So I feel quite satisfied but a few comments on my last post have got me questioning whether my expectations are too low?

I do think though it is a sign that we see these kind of responses as “awesome, great or impressive”.. I think we have grown to bad Customer Service and our expectations are pretty low…[comment from @wimrampen]

I suppose I agree with Wim, my benchmark for customer service is evidently extremely low. My benchmark is born of my experience though. For example, on Friday evening I spent over an hour on the phone to Orange trying to register a sim card. After 62 minutes of a recorded message telling me my call would be answered shortly, I decided to give up and get on with my weekend and sort it when I return to work on Monday. That is the environment within which I was pleased with the personal touch from the Virgin Media twitter team. On the same post @MartijnLinssen shared his experience with Telfort, his former ISP, he quite rightly observed that seemingly Virgin Media had made the better investment in how they sought to resolve my difficulties.

Wim also warns of relying on myths, something so very true to my own approach, see this post about the need to rely on evidence in the design of services. Wim clarifies:

There is little argument about the Service Paradox, but it should also be clear that this will only work as long as it remain incidents. It is not recommended to implement a service recovery strategy as means to increase Customer loyalty.

I feel the need to take responsibility at this stage for possibly mis-representing Fabian Segelström and Jeff Howard’s post, eek. If that was the case I’m sorry. They in no way imply that Service Recovery opportunities should be created or exploited, more that their resolution leads by lucky coincidence to improved satisfaction over all. In an attempt to right this wrong misrepresentation, and in trying to understand more, I came across a journal paper, Why service recovery fails: tensions among customer, employee, and process perspectives. The findings of this literature review support my earlier hunch that this wasn’t about employee incompetence but more about a dissonance between the people working within a system and the different elements of it:

Findings – It is argued that service recovery often fails due to the unresolved tensions found between the conflicting perspectives of customer recovery, process recovery, and employee recovery. Therefore, successful service recovery requires the integration of these different perspectives. This is summarized in the following definition: “Service recovery are the integrative actions a company takes to re-establish customer satisfaction and loyalty after a service failure (customer recovery), to ensure that failure incidents encourage learning and process improvement (process recovery) and to train and reward employees for this purpose (employee recovery).”

So there you have it, it seems that Virgin Media responded well in terms of my customer recovery and I get the impression that there is some internal dialogue that should lead to process and employee recovery. I only hope so. This was also picked up in the comment left by Guy Letts, his experience was similar:

Clearly there are many individuals there who are competent and who care deeply. Actually that’s usually the case with the individuals – as you rightly point out. I used to run a large support operation and we recruited to a high standard, as many do. It’s the empowerment, the systems and the policies that are often sub-standard – and that’s down to top level leadership not just investment.

As Guy points out, the responsibility lies with top level leadership, so I hope that those who hold that role within Virgin are listening. If they are and they’d like to share that with us, and/or they’d like to discuss any of this further, I’d love to hear from them.

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